Mar. 26 – July 26 – Nov. 25
Chapter 46: On Those Who Fail in Any Other Matters
When anyone is engaged in any sort of work,
whether in the kitchen, in the cellar, in a shop,
in the bakery, in the garden, while working at some craft,
or in any other place,
and she commits some fault,
or breaks something, or loses something,
or transgresses in any other way whatsoever,
if she does not come immediately
before the Abbess and the community
of her own accord
to make satisfaction and confess her fault,
then when it becomes known through another,
let her be subjected to a more severe correction.
But if the sin-sickness of the soul is a hidden one,
let her reveal it only to the Abbess or to a spiritual mother,
who knows how to cure her own and others’ wounds
without exposing them and making them public.
How many people try and hide the things they’ve done wrong? Pretend they didn’t happen? Hit and run drivers are a common occurrence, aren’t they? How many times have we hurt another person and blamed them instead of admitting we were wrong?
But what about other ways in which we try to evade responsibility for our actions? Have we failed in hospitality because someone is this, that or the other, and like such and such?
What is the effect upon us when we try to keep the secret and not let it get out? What does that do to trust?
What engages my attention in today’s reading is the last four lines – that a sin-sickness of the soul should in some circumstances be revealed only to the monastic superior or to a spiritual parent, who knows how to cure her own and others’ wounds without exposing them and making them public.
Even in community, it is not necessarily instructive or helpful to the members to reveal the cause of an individual’s fault. Nor would it be compassionate to the sinner who might have to add shame and humiliation (**not** the same as humility!) to one’s already heavy burden. The one who has done wrong is not advised to reveal her or his troubles to just anyone; the confessor/adviser is to be the monastic superior or else a spiritual parent, who is known to be wise in the ways of healing and trustworthy at keeping silence when silence is called for – not, then, a gossip, who in self-congratulation tells the rest of the community what she or he has done to help the erring sister or brother.
Someone to go to with our troubles, with our habitual sin, with our questions and our despair, is a great blessing to any human being. With ‘particular friendships’ usually frowned on in religious communities, it is an especial blessing to know that the monastic superior (or a spiritual parent) will be available to hear our soul’s anguish. And not just to hear, but to have a way of healing the wounds, to restore the sinful soul into a state of health and grace.
Here in the USA, at least, we have these talk shows where people go on national TV and reveal their most intimate
secrets or confront another in public. Sometimes I think the USA is a nation of voyeurs.
Benedict takes an opposite and I think a more wholesome point of view. We don’t have to tell everyone everything that is wrong with us.
No one, then, could lightly become a monastic superior, knowing that such responsibility lies upon them for the wellbeing not only of the community as a whole but of each individual soul within it. In the service for instituting a new rector in a parish, the bishop gives the incoming priest “the cure of souls” in the parish. I think many in the congregation assume this to be an Olde English term for “the **care** of souls, but having read today’s RB extract, it seems to me that it is indeed the **cure** of souls that they take on responsibility for.
And the cure of souls is of the utmost importance – healing of bodily ills and mental disorders enables individuals to live their earthly lives more abundantly and enjoy more functional relationships, but the soul is not limited to the earthly lifespan; here is entry to the eternal life. How much more then we should seek the cure of our souls.
The Celtic Christians took on the old Druidic practice of appointing an ‘Anam Chara’ – a ‘soul friend’ – to whom the deepest secrets and confessions could be made, who would be a mentor in this life and a protector of the soul on its journey to the life to come. I suppose our equivalent today would be the spiritual director. But ‘ordinary’ Christians (as if any of us is “ordinary”!!!!) tend to see spiritual direction as something for priests or monastics or people training for ordination. They take their troubles and confusions to their PCP, or to a psychologist or therapist, or share them with friends who may have spiritual wisdom but who equally may not have either wisdom or perspective. I am continually amazed at Benedict’s perspicacity in covering all aspects of human need in his Rule.